The township of Avoca is situated at the junction
of the South Esk and St Pauls Rivers. Over the years the economy
has been made up of farming, coal and tin mining, with an odd saw
mill or two thrown in. Now, however, it is a quiet, sleepy, little
town with only farming and a small sawmill remaining as major industries.
Early records show that James Gilligan was the first settler to
the area in around 1820. He took up residence on his 1600 acre land
grant a few miles east of the present township. Gilligan built a
fine home overlooking the South Esk River and named his property
It was here in 1843, whilst District Constable William Ward was
a dinner guest of the Gilligan’s, bushrangers Riley Jeffs and John
Conway raided the homestead. In the scuffle that followed Constable
Ward was shot dead by one of the “misguided” men, and it is said
the policeman’s ghost still lingers amongst the old ruins today.
In 1825 Colonial Government Surveyor John Helder Wedge surveyed
the area and called it St Pauls Plains. But it wasn’t until the
early 1830s, when a Police Barracks was built, that a township developed
and took on the Irish name of Avoca.
Today the town still has a number of historic buildings including
the local Union Hotel built in 1842, the former Rectory built in
1845 and the Parish Hall built around 1850.
The most significant of the old buildings in the township, however,
is St Thomas Anglican Church, which is set on a hill on the northern
side of the main road and overlooks both the St Pauls and South
Esk Rivers. Its Romanesque Revival style is a design attributed
to James Blackburn, the architect who built the stunning old church
at Port Arthur. St Thomas was consecrated on the 8th May 1842.
Just a stone throw from town, on the Rossarden Road, is the old
homestead of “Bona Vista”. This fine example of Georgian architecture
was built in stages by Simon Lord Jr. Lord took up residence on
the property after his marriage to Sarah Birch in 1831 and after
living in a hut for some time, commenced building his home around
1840, but it appears to have not been completed until 1848, at which
time 43 residents lived on the property, 18 of whom were convicts.
The homestead seems to be designed with an emphasis on security,
as early settlers in this region were under constant threat of attacks
from bushrangers and natives. An elaborate system of walled yards
near the house offered some safety to valuable stock, which could
be herded there when an attack was feared. The house itself is surrounded
by by a stone wall some nine feet high and two feet thick.
As well as a place for social gatherings Bona Vista was also the
scene of several tragic events. There was a bushranger attack in
1853, which saw a Constable shot dead. In 1862 the “Examiner” reported
the murder of the child of a German couple, and in 1898 a young
man is said to have been murdered on the homestead woodheap. His
body was carried upwards of half a mile and dumped in the South
Esk River. The victims name was “Beckitt” and the murderer was “Small”
Another significant settler to the area in the 1820s was a wealthy
Irishman by the name of Roderick O'Connor. He arrived in Van Diemens
land in 1824 and was soon appointed Lieutenant Arthur's Land Commissioner.
He established two substantial properties: "Connorville"
near Cressy and "Benham" at Avoca. "Benham"
went on to become one of the largest privately owned properties
In the 1960s and early 1970s Avoca gained national fame for what
was headlined across the country as the “The Avoca Shoot”. This
referred to the Avoca Wallaby Shoot, an annual event organized by
the Avoca Football Club to raise funds for the club and at the same
time cull the wallabies which were in plague proportion on properties
in the Avoca area.
Hundreds of shooters would converge on Avoca each year where they
would pay an entry fee to the footy club, head into the hills and
if we believed the headlines in many Mainland papers “Mass slaughter
would take place”.
The local newspaper, Valley Voice, reported in May 1970: “If nothing
else, this shoot has, each year, brought quite a deal of fame, or
more to the point notoriety, to this otherwise sleepy Fingal Valley
town and especially to the Avoca football Club who runs it.”
One animal liberation deputation that approached Tasmanian Senator
Reg Wright using words like: cruelty, inhumanity, sadistic and indiscriminate
in relation to the shoot, lobbied him to organize a party to shoot
the Avoca Football team. These people, however, were completely
out of line and lacking in facts because the Tasmanian Animal and
Birds Protection Board along with the R.S.P.C.A. condoned the shoot
as a necessary culling program. Both of whom saw the shoot as being
well organized and a far better alternative than other culling methods
such as 1080 poison where all animals and birds are threatened and
the carcasses left to rot; whereas in selective shooting only plague
animals are targeted and the meat was either taken by the shooters
or given to charity. But at the end of the day, animal lovers won
their case; the shoot was stopped and Avoca Football Club folded
The couple of hundred people who still remain in the Avoca area
display a community spirit as strong as the walls of Bona Vista.
It is a spirit that has carried the community through the good as
well as the bad and will ensure the survival of the town for generation
after generation into the future.
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